Monday, 3 Oct 2022

Children with aggressive cancer could be treated with adult drugs

Hope for children battling cancer as scientists find youngsters can be treated with adult drugs and be spared from gruelling chemotherapy

  • Scientists tested the genetic make-up of tumours in around 200 children
  • They found they can match it with drugs that exist but are only used in adults
  • The research could spell the end of the current ‘one size fits all’ chemotherapy 

Children with aggressive cancer could be cured if they are treated with adult drugs, a study has found.

Scientists found by testing the genetic make-up of a child’s tumour they can match it with drugs that already exist, but are currently only used in adult cancers.

The research offers hope to hundreds of children whose only treatment option is currently ‘one size fits all’ chemotherapy, with its cruel side effects.

Scientists found that by testing the genetic make-up of a child’s tumour they can match it with drugs that already exist, but are currently only used in adult cancers

A study, published in the European Journal of Cancer, involved 200 children with cancer and found that half of them had tumours with gene mutations that could be targeted by adult cancer drugs.

Those who went on to receive adult drugs had significant benefits from the targeted therapies.

It means that children with cancer could receive targeted and personalised treatment based on the genetic analysis of their tumour.

Cancer cells may figure out how to resist chemotherapy.

There are several reasons this may happen. 

The cells that are not killed may mutate and change in response, repair the DNA damaged by the drug or develop a mechanism that renders it useless. 

Therefore, the drugs’ success often relies on the failure of the cancer cell’s repairing mechanisms. 

Cancer cells may produce hundreds of copies of a particular gene, known as gene amplification, triggering an overproduction of a protein which stops the effectiveness of treatment.

Cancer cells are sometimes able to push the drug out of itself, using a molecule called p-glycoprotein. 

Because chemotherapy is the first line of treatment, it is a major concern when it fails to work. 

Professor Workman chief executive of The Institute for Cancer Research, said: ‘Cancer’s ability to adapt, evolve and become drug resistant is the cause of the vast majority of deaths from the disease and the biggest challenge we face in overcoming it.’

Solid tumours – such as those of the brain, central nervous system, bone and muscle – are rare but have much worse survival rates than children’s blood cancers such as leukaemia.

Surgery is often not possible and treatment is limited to chemotherapy.

Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said: ‘The new era of personalised medicine is well and truly upon us, and this trial shows the life-changing benefits that it can bring for NHS patients. 

‘This is exactly why the NHS is to begin offering every child with cancer a genetic test, as part of our Long Term Plan to transform care for millions of people across the country.’ 

Study author Dr Sally George, from The Institute of Cancer Research, said: ‘Children deserve the very best cancer treatments, so they can live as long as possible and as well as possible. 

‘We desperately need better, more intelligently designed treatments which can give children longer with their families with fewer side effects.

‘By testing tumours for specific gene mutations, we have shown it’s possible to identify new smarter, kinder treatment options for children, which may potentially give these patients much longer with their families after conventional therapies have failed.

‘But our study also exposes the desperately frustrating barriers that children still face in receiving new treatments – barriers which lie in the regulations controlling how drugs for children are developed and approved.’

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